WASHINGTON, GEORGE | Autograph manuscript fragment from Washington's undelivered first Inaugural Address
Autograph manuscript fragment from Washington's undelivered first Inaugural Address
On slip of laid paper (2 1/2 x 7 1/4 in.; 64 x 184 mm), cut from pages 20 and 21, containing approximately 74 words in Washington's holograph; remnants of wax to verso.
"...from any one of my countrymen, point to the sinester [sic] object, or to the earthly consideration beyond the hope of rendering some little service to our parent Country, that could have persuaded me to accept the appointment..."
An important fragment from Washington's discarded first inaugural address
Washington won the majority of every state's electoral votes in the first U.S. election, and though his elevation to the office of the President was more or less a foregone conclusion, he was nevertheless reluctant to leave the settled calm of Mount Vernon. Indeed, it would seem that it was an unwavering sense of duty, rather than personal ambition, that compelled Washington to depart for New York on 16 April to be inaugurated. Despite his disinclination to occupy the office, Washington had accepted the inevitability of his appointment to the presidency months before, and had begun working on his first Inaugural Address in January of 1789.
Assisted by his longtime friend, David Humphreys, who had also served as his aid since the Revolutionary War, Washington composed a thoughtful address, which touched on issues including: taxation, the organization of the judicial branch, defense, and the encouragement of national commerce and culture. In February of 1789, Washington sent the 73-page draft to James Madison, seeking his impressions and advice. Madison returned the manuscript to Mount Vernon while en route to the first session of the new U.S. Congress in New York, and though his response does not survive, it can be assumed that he urged Washington to deliver a briefer—and less radical—address. And so the preliminary draft was set aside in favor of a more succinct statement, which offered a less impassioned vision for the country. The latter version was read by Washington at his inauguration at Federal Hall, New York, 30 April 1789.
The original Address survived among Washington's papers at Mount Vernon until the 1820s, when it was transferred along with other original papers to Jared Sparks, the nineteenth-century "editor" of Washington's writings. Sparks decided that the undelivered Address should not be included in his selection of Washington's works, and instead made a far more shocking decision to distribute the 73-page manuscript to the autograph hunters and souvenir seekers who hounded him for relics of the nation's first president. Quite enterprisingly, Sparks cut full leaves into smaller fragments, enabling him to accommodate a greater number of requests. James Thomas Flexner's excoriation of Sparks's "most horrendous historical vandalism" scarcely seems condemnation harsh enough.
The present fragment offers an important insight into Washington's reasons for accepting the Presidency—namely is his desire to serve his country. Page 21 completes a sentence that begins: "Let then the Adversaries to this Constitution—let my personal enemies if I am so unfortunate as to have deserved such a return". The present fragment then continues: "from any one of my countrymen, point to the sinester [sic] object, or to the earthly consideration beyond the hope of rendering some little service to our parent Country, that could have persuaded me to accept this appointment." As the lower portion of page 21 has not survived, the text that leads into the top of page 22 (verso of page 21) is not known. However, from the language, one is able to surmise that Washington is discussing the weaknesses of the United States under the Articles of Confederation, and why Americans ultimately adopted a new Constitution with a stronger central government. This significant statement related to the new Constitution reads as follows: "to any favoured nation. We have purchased wisdom by experience. Mankind are believed to be naturally averse to the coertions [sic] of government. But when our Countrymen had experienced the inconveniences, arising from the feebleness of our".
A rare fragment conveying some of the most fundamental aspects of Washington's convictions.
The Papers of George Washington, Presidential Series, ed. Abbot & Twohig, 2:152–77; Nathaniel E. Stein, "Washington's Discarded Inaugural Address," in Manuscripts, vol. 10, no. 2 (Spring 1958): 2–17
Mr. Arthur C. Eilen (see: The Papers of George Washington, Presidential Series, ed. Twohig, 2:158–173)
Condition as described in catalogue entry.
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